WB GOVT’S CLAIM TO HOLD CIVIC POLLS IN NOVEMBER IS FICTITIOUS
By bappaditya paul
Trinamul Congress government wants to postpone elections to 17 municipalities in the state till November on the pretext that it will by then upgrade seven of them into corporations. But going by the West Bengal Municipal Act 1993, the upgrade process will take at least a year, making it clear that the November deadline is fictitious. Section 3 to 9 of the WB Municipal Act that deals with the formation/constitution of municipal areas in the state, lay down a procedure so elaborate that it will take 12-13 months to upgrade an existing municipality or form a new one.
The process includes issuing a notification by the Governor both in the official gazette and in newspapers, declaring the intention to create / upgrade a municipality. Following this, the common public shall have to be given three months to put forward their opinions/ objections in writing and these shall have to be disposed off in another one month.
The government will then issue a notification announcing the formation / upgrade of the civic bodies for which public opinion had been sought; another notification specifying the number of wards in each of these civic bodies will follow in close succession.
Since the government wants to set up four new municipal corporations, in the next step it shall have to draft and enact separate legislation for each of them. Such legislation, among other matters, shall mention whether the SEC or some other body is to carry out the delimitation for the new corporations.
Once that is done, the assigned body will take up the delimitation exercise, which going by conservative estimate, will take at least four months to complete.
Next comes the task of reserving seats/wards for women and SC/ST/OBC categories. The Municipal Elections Act stipulates that the draft for the reservation shall be published at least 10 weeks before the day of polls; the final reservation shall be published at least seven weeks in advance. This in effect means it will take at least three-four months to complete the reservation process and the elections can be held only after this. The state Cabinet had on 26 May announced the decision to create four new municipal corporations by clubbing 23 municipalities and merge another 13 municipalities with three existing corporations.
Of the municipalities to be upgraded, seven municipalities feature in the list of 17 municipalities whose term end in July. These seven municipalities are ~ Asansol, Dum Dum, South Dum Dum, Madhyamgram, Maheshtala and Rajarhat-Gopalpur.
Citing the proposed upgrade, the state municipal affairs secretary wrote to the State Election Commission (SEC) on 17 June stating that instead of now, the government wants to hold elections to the 17 municipalities in November as the upgrade would be completed by then.
The matter is now pending before the Calcutta High Court after the SEC flied a writ petition seeking intervention to hold elections to the 17 bodies before their term expires; the next hearing is fixed for 11 July.
Keeping in mind that the state election commissioner Ms Mira Pande is due to exhaust her tenure on 21 July, she will not be able to hold the elections even if the Court rules in favour of the poll panel. “She will at best be able to issue the notification and the next commissioner will complete the poll process,” said a senior SEC official.
(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report first appeared in The Statesman on 28 June 2014, under a different headline.)